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U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman bumps elbows with South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong prior to their meeting at Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, on July 22, 2021. The United States, Japan and South Korea on Wednesday reaffirmed their commitment to work together on North Korea's denuclearization and other regional threats but made no progress in bringing closer together the two U.S. allies.

Song Kyung-seok/The Associated Press

Top U.S. and South Korean officials agreed Thursday to try to convince North Korea to return to talks on its nuclear program, which Pyongyang has insisted it won’t do in protest of what it calls U.S. hostility.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was in Seoul as part of her regional tour that will take her to China this weekend. She’ll be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit China since President Joe Biden took office in January.

On Thursday, she met South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong for talks on North Korea, the military alliance between Seoul and Washington and other regional issues.

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The two decided to continue close consultations to get North Korea to return to talks and agreed dialogue is essential to the complete denuclearization and permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula, Chung’s ministry said in a statement.

U.S.-led diplomacy aimed at stripping North Korea of its nuclear program in return for economic and political benefits has been stalled for about 2½ years. A major sticking point is North Korea’s calls for the United States to abandon policy Pyongyang considers hostile – an apparent reference to punishing U.S.-led sanctions imposed over its past nuclear and missile tests.

Last month, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un dismissed prospects for a restart of the nuclear diplomacy, saying U.S. expectations of talks would “plunge them into a greater disappointment.” After her statement, Kim’s foreign minister said North Korea wasn’t even considering the possibility of any contact with the Americans, noting it “would get us nowhere, only taking up precious time.”

The blunt back-to-back statements have dampened hopes that were raised when Kim said North Korea was ready for both dialogue and confrontation – though more for confrontation.

Some experts say North Korea will likely find the urgent need to return to talks if its current pandemic-related economic difficulties further worsen.

Also during Thursday’s meeting, Chung asked Sherman to strive to bolster the South Korean-U.S. alliance. Sherman responded she would do so, saying the alliance is key to peace, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and Northeast Asia, according to the statement.

Later Thursday, Sherman met President Moon Jae-in at Moon’s presidential office of Blue House. Details of their meeting weren’t immediately available.

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